Paul Galvani's (with his wife Christiane) researched and published the book Lost Restaurants of Houston in April 2018. It is available at the River Oaks Bookstore across from Lamar High School and at other locations around town.
Some of these still exist, or the families do, with Houston restaurant families into their 3rd or even 4th generation such as the Carabba's, Christies, Adairs, Vallones, Laurenzos, and more.
In composing this blog a while back before this latest update, I came across a very good FB posting from Katherine Leigh Ermis and Kevin Lacobie and its really good comment sections on this subject and I thought I would preserve it here.
Back in the day, the Felix Mexican Restaurant on Westheimer had a framed article on Houston dining and I wish I had a copy of that as it listed all of the popular restaurants, circa 1970's.
Another excellent source for information on Houston restaurants that may no longer exist are the Ann Criswell series of Houston Is Cooking and Houston Gourmet books, which show up from time to time in the resale shops in Houston.
Back in 2013, I set out to reverse engineer the recipe for Gus's Fried Chicken (Memphis, Tennessee). I came close on several occasions and re-dedicated myself to cracking the code this year. A recent visit to Memphis allowed me to give the chicken one more taste, being able to pull data from my experiments and reach a final conclusion.
Here follows the recipe. It is based on just one boneless, skinless chicken breast weighing in at 1 pound, and cut into three pieces. It can be adjusted for larger quantities of chicken.
24 hour marinade. Begin the day before you plan to fry the chicken (Increase these quantities, depending on how much chicken you plan to make)
1 lb (one) boneless skinless chicken breast cut into three pieces
1 cup corn starch
¼ cup (4 tablespoons) all purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 cup water (note: 1 ½ cups is too much. I actually ended up with 1 ¼ cup water and poured off a little water in the morning that had gathered on top of the marinade)
Marinade for 24 hours.
Fry at 325-350 F. Use a neutral vegetable or corn oil. I do not recommend canola oil as it smells like frying fish and adds an unpleasant fish taste to fried foods. Note, when the exterior crust looks perfect, the interior may still be uncooked. It is the curse of these huge chickens that they sell now. Try your best to buy a 2.5-3 lb chicken. If it isn't spicy enough, "salt" with Tony Chachere creole seasoning. Next time you make it, increase the amount of cayenne, and/or, add chopped whole serrano chiles or habanero chiles to the marinade.
Now, it is possible that you don't want to fry chicken at home and you are asking, "Where does Jay go in Houston for fried chicken?"
If people are visiting from out of town, I will take them to Barbecue Inn on Crosstimbers at Yale, as it is historically significant and a Houston institution. We don't get barbecue here. We get fried chicken.
Frenchies is another historically significant Houston destination for fried chicken. For my taste, it is too salty. But I am in the minority. Frenchies on Scott Street near TSU should definitely be on your list to try.
As many of you know, I had some medical issues in 2016 that resulted in a significant weight loss. After fighting my weight gain for decades, I lost 45 pounds. In so doing I learned some interesting things about weight loss, using my own body as a guinea pig. I have concluded that, in addition to the benefits of exercise and body building, it really is about "calories in, calories out". If you consume less calories than you can burn, you are going to be able to maintain or reduce your weight. Goal: 2,250 calories per day.
To that end, I wanted to find a low calorie breakfast substitute / meal replacement that would work for me. I wanted to find something with about 300 calories that would keep me going until lunchtime.
Now, my absolute favorite meal replacement is the MET Rx Extreme Chocolate Shake. It is thick and very much like a chocolate shake. A terrific product, and one that I have been using it as a breakfast drink for many years. And I recommend it (best pricing is on Amazon).
But the mad scientist in me wanted badly to create his own protein shake. And so, I set about to build one from ingredients, focused on a 40 gram protein formula. Doing the research of the various protein powders (whey, casein, plant protein) I determined that the price per serving of 40 g is all over the place, depending upon which brand you choose. Marketing. Thus, my gut feeling is, just go with what is most economical for a 40 g per serving product (may be one scoop, may be two). For example, you will see in the above photo that I found a brand in close-out for half price ($35). Organic Greens can be found at Walmart. The Optifiber comes from Costco. The guar gum ( a superior thickener to xanthan gum which I had been using) is from Bob's Red Mill and I found it in closeout at H-E-B. Be sure to pick up some Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa to make the drink a little more palatable.
The formula (using the scoops provided where applicable):
2 scoops Optifiber
1 or 2 scoops of chocolate flavor protein powder (to build an equivalent of 35-40 grams of protein) your choice of brands
1 tbs Special Dark cocoa powder
1/2 tsp guar gum
1 scoop Organic Greens chocolate flavor
20 ounces of ice cold water, or add some ice cubes
All ingredients in a blender, blended until nice and thick. Note: add more guar gum if the thickness is not to your liking.
Here follows the TM/DR ("too much information, didn't read") portion of this riff:
I was able to use myself as a guinea pig last year when I was on a feeding tube for several months. The liquid nutrient/meal replacement solution that I poured through the tube three times a day was crap. It was whey for protein, canola oil for fat, and high fructose corn syrup for carbohydrates. It was tailored to a daily caloric intake of 2,250 calories. And I did just fine on it. I had lifted weights prior to treatment to bulk up as much as possible, knowing that there would come a time when I couldn't swallow and that all food would taste bad. The rule of thumb is that when you drop your body weight by 10%, it's time to go to a feed tube. So, the first thing that my body turned to for energy were my muscles. As they started to disappear, my body started pulling from my fat storages and weight loss occurred because, at 2,250 calories, I was burning more in a day than the meal replacements were delivering. And the light bulb went off that, at the chemical/molecular level in the stomach and digestive system, the body really doesn't care if you are ingesting canola oil and whey protein, or paté and burgers. So once I had this baseline where I knew that I could sustain myself with "crap", it was just one step forward to realizing that if I maintained a nominal calorie intake, eating in moderation, that I would continue to keep the weight off. In the best of all worlds, that calorie intake should come from, say, a quality protein , some starch such as potatoes, rice, pasta, and pretty much all the vegetable on could tolerate.
This year, I decided to start exploring Houston, in hopes of locating Tex-Mex restaurants that were keeping the recipes that I remember from my youth alive.
Anyone who has seen the movie, Ratatouille, knows the famous scene where the dish of ratatouille transports for restaurant critic back to his childhood.
Tex-Mex can have the same effect on me. Truthfully, there are a lot of things to not like about the mess that we call the combination dinner. Too much salt. Too much grease. No vegetables to speak of. Artery clogging cheese and meat. And I have joked that if an alien was dropped into Texas and served up a big old mess of Tex-Mex, he might remark, "What the heck is this on my plate?"
But for those of us who grew up here, Tex-Mex seems very right and we love it. As a kid, my family ate at an El Patio on Telephone at Park Place at least twice a week.
In the eighties, new menu items started appearing and certainly there are now many restaurants that offer fare more typical of the food of northern Mexico and other regions. For example, the menu at the charming Morales on 76th Street could as easily be the menu of a small comedor (eatery) in Monterrey, Mexico.
With my recent very positive experience with what I fondly call Retro Tex-Mex at Spanish Village on Almeda (established 1953), I thought that I would put together a list of favorite places that, if one could time travel back to 1960's Houston, these would be the combination plates that one might be served.
Now, I know that my suggestions are going to generate a lot of "why did you choose that place and not this place" comments in the comments section. Well, this is not an exclusive list. It's a starting point for your explorations around town. Some you will probably recognize. Others may be off your radar and new to you. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments section.
And so, here begins my list, a list of restaurants where that combo plate will have frijoles refritos, arroz a la Mexican, a flour/oil/chili powder "chili" gravy to cover the enchiladas and tamales. The tortillas for the enchiladas will have been dipped in hot out to soften and then stacked until ready to use. The rice will be slightly red from tomatoes, seasoned with cumin and hopefully, light and fluffy. The beans may be watery or slightly thick and probably made with pinto beans. If you are lucky, the crispy taco shell will be puffy and inflated like a balloon (Los Tios is the only place that I know of that still do these...but, I am talking with Spanish Village to see if they might be interested in figuring out the recipe with me; I'm pretty sure that it is critical to use yellow corn nixtamal as, when I tried to make them with white corn nixtamal, they absorbed too much oil and got soft after a few minutes).
Here is a link to this article, as originally written for and published in Phaedra Cook's Houston Food Finders:
Spanish Village Restaurant
4720 Almeda Road
With new ownership, and a new ownership that is hitting it out of the ballpark with the classic recipes prepared well, and with the closing of Fiesta Loma Linda, Spanish Village is my default go-to Mexican restaurant in Houston. Highly recommended is the Sheridan #25.
El Real Tex-Mex #7
1201 Westheimer Road
Many of the recipes at El Real came from Robb Walsh's (The Tex-Mex Cookbook) lifelong love affair with the history of and recipes of classic Tex-Mex. The flour and corn tortillas here are excellent. Be sure to go upstairs and check out the Jay Francis Collection of Tex-Mex memorabilia.
Don Key Mexican Restaurant
5010 Spencer Highway, Pasadena
Established in 1984. I came across this time warp treasure via their billboard on Old Galveston Road that I noticed one day when driving back into Houston.
Los Tios (Beechnut)
4840 Beechnut Street
Los Tios is a Houston institution and currently the only place that still make the puffy and crispy taco that was once very typical of Houston Tex-Mex. This location on Beechnut is a favorite.
2026 W. 34th Street
The story of Don Teo's is pretty interesting. This location was one of the original Monterey Houses in Houston, this one franchised to Don Covington. Now in his 80's, he still comes by for Tex-Mex every week. The Martinez family that own it now, Don Teo and his son, Teo Jr., worked for decades for the Monterey House chain. Junior began as a kid and worked his way through the various stations of a restaurant. He is an absolute delight to chat with and we recommend to be sure to say "Hi" when you visit.
El Paraiso (on Fairview in Montrose)
2320 Crocker Street
El Paraiso, too, prepares class Tex-Mex, and also offers house made moles and a few northern Mexico regional dishes.
Don Carlos (on 76th Street)
416 76th Street www.doncarlosrestaurants.com On the east side of town, what is becoming known as Eado, though, we prefer the name Canaviburg, Don Carlos has a long history of serving Tex-Mex.
3401 N. Shepherd at 34th Street
Mi Sombrero offers classic Tex-Mex dishes and like Don Teo, serves the Garden Oaks and Shepherd/Ella area of Houston.
Fiesta Loma Linda
2111 Telephone Road
(We are sad to advise that, after 62 years, Fiesta Loma Linda closed in May of 2018):
Our favorite because of the classic, Houston style puffy tacos that they continue to make and make well. Originally a classic diner, the owners friendship with the owners of the now long gone Loma Linda Restaurant by Palms Center, follow the original Loma Linda recipes.
Another historically significant, classic Tex-Mex institution. This one serves the Stafford, Hwy 59 at Wilcrest Houston area.
Monterey House (Beaumont, Texas)
1109 S 11th Street, Beaumont, Texas
OMG. The holy grail. The mecca for lovers of classic, retro Tex-Mex. The franchisee bought the rights to the recipes of the original Monterey House chain in the 60's and continues to duplicate the original recipes. A must stop for anyone travelling east on Highway 10 through Beaumont. For more details, please see this link: Monterey House - Beaumont
Larry's (Richmond, Texas)
116 E Highway 90A, Richmond
Larry Guerrero worked for Felix Tijerina back in the day, and, when he expressed interest in creating his own Mexican restaurant, Mr. Tijerina provided assistance. Ninfa Laurenzo also offered help in exchange for his buying his masa products from their family tortilleria off of Navigation.
Be sure to pick up a Larry's t-shirt when you visit. It is one of the coolest looking t-shirts in Texas.
La Hacienda (Memorial)
14759 Memorial Drive
If you grew up in the Memorial area, your family probably went to "La-Ha" at least once a week. It is a Tex-Mex institution for Memorialites.
Old Mexico (Northside)
3306 Hopper Road
This is about as old school as you can get. Red tortillas for the enchiladas, salsa and queso served with chips, classic rice and beans. Yep. You will want to get the enchilada plate here. Note: there isn't a sign outside so you may actually pass by Old Mexico the first time that you try to find it.